Friday, February 05, 2010

Every edge cuts two ways

We were intrigued when Tom Condon offered a course on the Enneagram and the Meta Model. That course offered a great review, but not much that was definitive and new. It did, however, make us take a second look at what we actually use of the Meta Model and how it works when it works.

If you're unfamiliar with the terminology, the meta-model is the way that NLP described the language patterns people use to dissociate from their own experience. It was developed by a linguist and a mathematician who observed psychotherapists - a strangely dissociated approach to language which results in a terminology-heavy and typically negative and combative model. Within the meta model, patterns were called "violations" and responses to them were called "challenges." The whole thing was supposed to be grounded in Chomsky's Transformational Grammar.

I've never thought that the meta model offered a rich enough understanding of what is at work when one person asks questions that allow someone else to describe their own experience in richer, more sensory and more meaningful terms. I have used it as a jumping-off point for exploring the conditions under which questioning becomes a powerful form of influence.

Since revisiting the meta model in the course, and then through some of Michael Hall's sensible and approachable work on NLP language, I am starting to uncover the missing piece that has been sitting in the back of my mind and making me uncomfortable with the model. The meta model patterns are a sign of dissociation. Dissociation from sensory experience is not, in itself, a bad thing. We use it often in NLP so that someone can work on problems without becoming overwhelmed by problem states. We also use it so that the 'pattern's we learn in NLP can be generalized to apply to a wide variety of situations.

The same techniques once described as "violations" were used by the developers of NLP to allow people to change and to learn. The dissociation that signaled problems in one context was actually the solution in other contexts. The patterns were useful in some ways, obstacles in others.

People who learn to recognize the meta models patterns in themselves and others (two different steps) will develop a real edge in communication and influence. They'll have a useful linguistic representation of when someone can be influenced to choose or to act and when someone must be shifted before they will be able to move. The same patterns that signal someone is stuck (which happens when we represent our experience as general or abstract) are useful steps towards getting a shift (moving into a more useful pattern).

The edge cuts both ways.

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